Shapiro letter to NY Times: O’Neill portrayal ‘wrong and misguided’
The following letter was sent to New York Times writer Joe Drape regarding Wednesday’s controversial story about Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner I’ll Have Another’s “history of ailments” prior to his scratch from the Belmont Stakes. The letter was written by Richard Shapiro, former chairman of the California Horse Racing Board.
Dear Mr. Drape:
First, let me introduce myself, my name is Richard B. Shapiro and I formerly was a Member and Chairman of the California Horse Racing Board. I also have testified before Congress on two occasions, related to the use of drugs in horse racing. I think you would be hard pressed to find anyone as opposed as I am to the use of illegal drugs but also many of the legal drugs. Racing today permits drugs to be used legally that I believe to be performance enhancers and harmful to the longevity of a horses racing career. Racing needs to step up and ban the use of many commonly used medications.
Having said that, I find your recent article regarding medications and procedures performed on I’ll Have Another to be very disturbing. In my mind your conclusions are wrong, and based on actions that are out of context. I also have to confess, that while I was a Member of the California Horse Racing Board, I was privy to a TCO2 violation of Doug O’Neill, and I personally met with O’Neill, his Vet, and the Equine Medical Director for the State of California. During our meeting O’Neill could not have been more open, transparent, or cooperative in trying to figure out why one horse tested at a level above the legal limit. Your portrayal of O’Neill as a cheater is simply wrong and misguided. I do not know of any Trainer more willing to do whatever is asked of him, or wanting to find the reason one horse tests so differently than another.
In your article you insinuate that what was administered to I’ll Have Another were drugs to cover up some brewing ailment. Frankly, their taking ex-rays and ultra sound tests should be applauded, not criticized. If every horse received that attention, break downs would be prevented, and the beginnings of a problem could be identified in time to save horses from serious injury. Here in California every horse is examined before racing, but there is no way to detect every ailment, or potential problem. Clearly every precaution was taken with this horse, and thankfully, when there was a real problem, the Owner and Trainer did the right thing.
The medications that were administered to the horse were not only legal, but they were preventative so as not to allow a potential issue from becoming worse. Lets face it, all of us have arthritis to some degree, it is normal, especially in athletes. You have ignored that fact. Phil Mickelson is doing television commercials because he has arthritis, should he not be given medications so he can continue to play golf? There are good treatments to not allow arthritis to get worse, but who doesn’t have a stiff ankle or shoulder due to arthritis?
Most disturbing to me is that you fail to see, that in this case, not only was every movement, every action, every everything was done under a microscope given the chance of a Triple Crown. The participants were completely transparent, open, and did everything asked of them. They were two and a half minutes away from possibly having the first Triple Crown winner in 34 years, and they were the ones that said, “No, we will not race!”. They should be complimented for not taking the risk of hurting the horse, or anyone else.
I admit that I know Doug O’Neill and J. Paul Reddam, so I am bias in that I know them. But, I can tell you, there has not been a single instance in the period that I have known them where they have tried to hide, cover up, or do the wrong thing. Not one. Doug O’Neill has been upfront and admitted some errors in the past, and he has taken actions to correct them. We are all flawed and we all make mistakes, but those that can admit a mistake and take actions to improve should be appreciated not made out to be of bad character.
I would suggest that you take the time to visit Doug O’Neill’s barn, see the care his horses receive, look at their feed program, meet with the Vets that treat the horses, spend a few days in his shoes, and I think you will come away feeling quite differently.
Again, as I said at the beginning, I am an ardent opponent to the use of many medications that are currently legal. I find it horrific that race horses do not have medical records that should travel with them as they change hands. The sport is in serious trouble, field sizes are dwindling, the sport is pretty much gone and now it’s just a form of gambling, and a lousy one at that. I urge you to look at the root of the problem which starts with how fragile the animals have become. Today, horses are bred for brilliant speed, not endurance, not soundness. The horse racing business is really the horse breeding business, that is where the real money is; it’s the sales ring that matters.
We agree about the use of drugs in the game, the rules should be changed. There are many reforms that the sport has failed to implement, and until there is a national policy and governing body, I doubt there will be any real reform. But please, direct the power of your writing where it belongs. Doug O’Neill did nothing wrong with his handling of I’ll Have Another, he took the high road and scratched the horse because of a tendon injury. Despite the temptation of winning the Triple Crown, Reddam and O’Neill not only dashed their dreams but made sure that the sport did not have another black eye.
Richard B. Shapiro